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P-47 Thunderbolt!

Short Flights


P-47 at Mojave Airport.

This photo was taken at Mojave Airport nearly twenty-two years ago. Alan Preston was taxiing a Republic P-47 into one of the original hangars built by the Marines in 1942.

The Santa Monica Museum of Flying used to have a maintenance and restoration facility here at Mojave Air & Spaceport and Bruce Lockwood managed all aspects of the business and even flew the rare warbirds that temporarily lived here.

There is something special about standing near an airplane with a big Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine running, but only if you like airplanes and, of course, you know that I am an airplane nut.

The Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt", was one of America's leading fighter planes in World War II. First flight was on May 6, 1941 and the first plane was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on March 18, 1942. The first combat mission was flown on April 8, 1943, from bases in England all over Western Europe.

At first pilots didn't like the look of the fat round fuselage and thought it would not be able to compete against the enemy's nimble fighters. The Thunderbolt soon proved itself when the pilots discovered it could out-dive any Luftwaffe airplane and it was equally impressive against the Japanese fighters in the Southwest Pacific.

Other nicknames included Razorback, Lead Sled, and Jug, because it looked like a bottle flying with the bottom in front! The first P-47s had a canopy that blended into the rear fuselage for the Razorback designation, but later Republic installed a bubble canopy for better visibility.

If you want to read a great book with good descriptions of aerial combat, full of dogfights and dreams of flying, I recommend "Thunderbolt! – The P-47" by Robert S. Johnson and Martin Caidin, the life story of Col. Robert S. Johnson, WWII Ace in P-47s.

We have all heard the stories of pilots with extraordinary eyesight, outstanding marksmanship and smooth flying abilities, but Col. Johnson took it to a new level when he downed 27 German fighters during 91 aerial combat sorties. He was the first 8th Air Force pilot to pass Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's World War I score of 26.

His accomplishment was surpassed only by his squadron commander, Lt. Col. Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski, who shot down 28 German planes and destroyed three more on the ground. Gabreski went on to fly F-86 Sabres in Korea.

After WWII, Johnson was Chief Test Pilot for Republic Aviation, and he later became an insurance executive. He passed away on Dec. 27, 1998 at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla. at the age of 78.

It would have been wonderful to have met Bob Johnson, but we have been surrounded by many men cut from the same cloth right here in our area. Lovers of freedom, willing to fight and die if necessary; they took the chance and served their country, flew combat missions and came home. Now they keep their airplanes and memories at Tehachapi Airport and Mojave Air & Spaceport. Every once in awhile you might meet one of these impressive guys and hear their daring tales. All of a sudden they become that 20-year-old in the cockpit of the fighter plane or bomber and for a few minutes, as you hear them speak, you are there with them, reliving the terror and the victory!

I have attended many air races, but I have never witnessed so many World War II aircraft engines roaring to life at the same time as I did at the Chino Air Show in 2004.

There were five Republic P-47 Thunderbolts sitting in the front row. Next to them were four Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, two Hawker Sea Furys, a Supermarine Spitfire, a Hawker Hurricane, and a British Hellcat, followed by numerous North American P-51 Mustangs, and they were all running, making magical and thunderous music.

P-47s in Formation at Chino Air Show 2005.

I wonder if seeing these airplanes from the past on the ground and in the air stir the emotions for you like it does for me? I always find myself thinking of the air battles, the pilots and their families, and the importance and high spirit of saving freedom that was paramount in World War II.

Saving freedom is still vital to the men and women who are serving our country today in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it doesn't seem as important to some of America's citizens and politicians. I sometimes think they would rather join the other side and sell America for the highest dollar, if it meant they could line their pockets with some of that green stuff! Honesty, integrity, morals and having principled character is hard to find now.

Pray for our country, and pray for our men and women wearing the uniforms of freedom; our U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Army; and the U.S. Air Force!

See you on our next flight!


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